Cape Town - Although the US's decision to extend Endangered Species Act protections for two breeds of lions will not make it illegal for hunters to hunt lions, hunters would have to go through a lot more work to take the animal trophies back to the United States.
Also, under the new rules, people who have been convicted of a wildlife law violation could be denied a permit to import a lion trophy, the announcement from the US Fish and Wildlife Service states.
READ: Obama govt enacts protections for lions
For trophy hunters such as Walter Palmer, the Minnesota dentist who shot Cecil with a bow and arrow, and pleaded guilty in 2008 to making false statements to the Fish and Wildlife Service about a black bear fatally shot in western Wisconsin outside an authorised hunting zone, this could mean an end of lion trophy hunting, as he would be unable to get a permit to import trophies.
In August this year, the illegal kill of Cecil the lion sparked a worldwide call for a trophy hunting ban, and the Obama administration's decision to extend Endangered Species Act protections for two breeds of lions can therefore be seen as a turning point for the lions now roaming Africa.
SEE: Illegal kill of Cecil the lion sparks worldwide call for trophy hunting ban
It is a law-backed decision to eliminate the incentive for American hunters—who make up a healthy percentage of those hunting lions—to take home a lion’s head, skin, or other prized parts, National Geographic says.
The listings put lions on par with other big cats—leopards, tigers, cheetahs—already listed as endangered.
Lion numbers worldwide are estimated to have plunged to about 20 000 from more than a million two thousand years ago.
Furthermore, in the last 20 years, lion populations have declined by 43% due to habitat loss, loss of prey base, and retaliatory killing of lions by a growing human population.
Coupled with inadequate financial and other resources for countries to effectively manage protected areas, the impact on lions in the wild has been substantial.
“The lion is one of the planet’s most beloved species and an irreplaceable part of our shared global heritage,” says Dan Ashe, the agency's director. “If we want to ensure that healthy lion populations continue to roam the African savannas and forests of India, it’s up to all of us – not just the people of Africa and India – to take action.”